This is not an endorsement of dog leashes, dog collars, dog obedience training etc.  But we bought a walking leash for our outrageously enthusiastic dog, Penny.  She loves walks, but, unfortunately, she also loves people and other dogs, too–and just wants to jump on them and smell them as quickly as possible.

Pulling…straining…choking.  Gotta go faster. (repeat ad naseum)

This is what a walk used to look like with Penny–until we got the “Gentle Leader” leash.  It’s very unassuming, really.  It’s not a muzzle–just a strap that goes over her snout just below her eyes that gets snapped up snugly at the crown of the back of her coppery head.  All I can say is that, when we put “The Gentle Leader” on her–it’s like magic!  Instant submission.   Ragged panting and the clatter of excited nails skittering on Pergo get transformed into a quiet, sweet dog sitting there in the living room on her haunches, watching you and patiently waiting for her walk.  Walking Penny suddenly becomes a point of grace in my day–instead of a quick, joint-rattling fifteen minutes on the “random” setting of the treadmill.

So, you might be asking at this point in my latest blog post–what in the world does this have to do with  the church, parenting, recovering from brain cancer–or even Holy Week–some of the more recent topics which occupy my thoughts for Second Campus?

Well, I’ve been doing some experimentation with my preaching of late at Blanchard Warrenville.  Shorter messages (15 minutes…) with a student giving a 1-2 minute summary of God’s Word to them at the end, which then leads to an open discussion with the entire congregation.  After two cracks at it over the last month–at least the experiments haven’t gone awry–they’ve been beautiful and instructive.

But this last Sunday, as I preached on a passage from Luke 20, discussing one of Jesus’ final exchanges with Jewish leaders challenging his authority in the Temple after the triumphal entry. I encouraged my listeners to submit to Jesus’ authority as their rightful King.  It’s really quite remarkable that Jesus spent such a significant amount of time at the temple in Jerusalem preaching the gospel and making repeated attempts to convince the murderous Jewish leaders of his authority as Messiah.  Didn’t he have more important things to do just a few days before his death?

After I finished my message and my nephew succinctly summarized my message, a dear, Spirit-filled woman from my congregation stood and shared her fears about how difficult it is for her to submit to God’s authority, because of her own experiences with abuse of power and authority in her own life–that even the notion of submission to God’s authority is hard to receive because of so many bad examples all around us.  Even though that’s not been my experience, I’m slowly starting to get that submitting to God’s authority is overwhelming and terrifying for some people.  But in reflecting on Jesus’ example–is there any more gentle, humble example of submission than his?  Despite knowing all the gory details about his upcoming death on the cross, he struggled, resisted, strained and objected in the garden in Gethsamane, but, ultimately, submitted to his Father’s will.

I can calmly submit to the authority of  a gentle Leader like that.  Because I do trust that Christ, despite my sin, has nothing but goodwill and love for me.  He proved it by dying for me that Good Friday.  As Paul so beautifully declares in his hymn to Christ from Philippians 2:

In your relationships with each other
Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus,
Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God
Something to be used to His own advantage
Rather, he made himself nothing
Taking the very nature of a servant
Being found in human likeness
And being found in appearance as a man
He humbled himself
By becoming obedient to death
–even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
And every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.   (NIV 2011)

There’s no fear in submitting to Jesus’ kind of gentle authority and life.  Have you?